D&L6: Chicago neighborhoods: sparking parties, secession and uproar since 1832
Chapter 6. The use of city neighborhoods
While the preceding and following chapters — especially the following five — are focused largely on design and sidewalk life, “The use of city neighborhoods” examines these building blocks” roles in self-government. Jacobs asserts that there are functionally only three types of city neighborhoods: the city as a whole, individual city streets and “districts,” which serve the role of mediating between the individual city street and the city government as a whole.
The word “neighborhood” must be one of the most-used words in urban planning, history and sociology. Whole books examine the subject; Chicago, along with many other cities, likes to call itself a “city of neighborhoods.” I’m not well-versed in analyzing political power of city districts, which this chapter really strays into, but I’ve been able to perceive a lot of the power that the idea of “neighborhood” has.
People are fascinated with knowing neighborhood boundaries. Chicago has 77 “community areas,” which have remained unchanged since the 1920s when they were drawn by University of Chicago researchers; they’re used to this day as a basis for comparisons and statistics. While some, like West Town, comprise what almost everyone would think of as several separate neighborhoods (Logan Square, Wicker Park, Bucktown), other community areas such as Edgewater clearly coincide with what most Chicagoans would think of as one neighborhood — this last community area in fact separated from the Uptown community area in a rare secession in the 1970s.
I always feel like I can perceive street neighborhoods the most clearly visualized during the summer when there are seemingly millions of street festivals — Chicago’s highly regular grid results in major streets every half-mile (with a number of exceptions), and there are often half-mile or three-quarter-mile long festivals all the time.
One of my favorite websites, Every Block, allows you to enter your address and you get local news, which is sorted by a variety of different designations; variously by ward, ZIP code, neighborhood, community area, address). While some of these, such as ZIP code, aren’t really functional mental decisions — do you think of yourself as a resident of your ZIP/postal code? with few exceptions à la 90210, you probably don’t — it does make you think about the groupings in which you see yourself.
Jacobs mentions that “the first relationships to form in city areas” are often among local civic organizations, such as civic leagues, PTAs, political clubs, etc. I do wonder if in our modern-day age, with higher rates of Internet usage and declines in traditional club membership, if this still holds true in our day.
Certainly, people still come together when they feel the neighborhood is being split. Chicago recently finished a contentious redistricting of its ward boundaries, and the Lincoln Park neighborhood — one of the most well-heeled in the city — rose up when it looked like it might be split between different wards of the city, when it had previously all been under one, in the 43rd ward.
Among all the concepts of the “city,” city neighborhoods seem to inspire a great deal of enthusiasm, energy, vitriol and criticism. And you can do endless research on getting people to find out what neighborhood city people live in. Jacobs’ appraisal on civic organizations may not entirely reflect current reality, but I think the fundamental importance of the city neighborhood still rings true.